Nothing funny happens at the “Forum”
By Daedalus Howell
THIS IS A cruelty-free review. Sonoma County Rep-Santa Rosa’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s infernal musical fantasia A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was not harmed in the creation of this article because on opening night it had been mysteriously replaced by an inferior copy. It looked like SCR, but it wasn’t, and eerily, nothing funny happened.
Enter Pseudolus (Gerald Haston), a slave yearning for freedom, who can escape his servitude if he connects mail-order virgin Philia (Trisha Davis) with his lovesick young master, Hero (Matthew Proschold). Complications ensue when Pseudolus discovers Philia is already betrothed to vainglorious gladiator Milos Gloriosus (John Goldman). Moreover, Hero’s lascivious father, Senex (Lyle Fisher), mistakes her for a new housemaid with whom he plans to take liberties.
Lies, fraud, and shtick-in-the-mud antics ensue as Pseudolus’ comic capers lead to an inevitably tidy denouement. Long-lost children are found, bed hoppers are tucked in, marriage looms, and a desultory song and dance number caps what’s left of the evening (the show is nearly three hours long).
Staging a featherweight sex farce to usher in spring seems a natural choice, but the musical, as written, is more baroque than burlesque.Whistles accompany kicks in the ass and pratfalls a-go-go collide with tired puns like “religious cretin” (referring to the pious folks of nearby Crete).
This show is a golem. Despite Haston’s gallant efforts to breath life into it, he is left winded, overcome by the show’s own drafty antics. His Pseudolus hails from the Lou Costello school of rubes and is conveyed with much gusto–yet one can’t help but think that the effort is misspent. Haston is a proven comedic actor, but this role wastes his finer faculties. Instead, he plays a cartoon.
Likewise, Proschold’s serviceably doltish Hero is well complemented by Davis’ sugary Philia, but ultimately the roles seem unworthy of both their talents, and consequently the actors seem rather “outside” the piece.
Jonathan Graham’s Hysterium (head slave) and Tim Hayes’ Marcus Lycus (the hard-nosed flesh peddler), however, appear rooted in the world of the work. This is a credit as much to their acting as to their willingness to submit to oppression.
As the Proteans (transmutable onstage personnel who go from eunuchs to guardsmen), zealous young performers Derek Fischer and Greg Gallagher make a concerted effort to steal the show, though they forfeit what little booty there is with their sledgehammer-subtle stage presence.
Nina Raggio’s choreography during the courtesan dance sequence is a bizarre fusion of I Dream of Jeannie and the weirdo physical seductions found in the mid-’60s James Bond flicks. Neither particularly sexy or comic, the outcome can only be construed as an experimental ode to the ultramodern.
On balance, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is far from a feast but not quite a beggar’s banquet.
Sonoma County Rep-Santa Rosa’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays through May 1, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., at 415 Humboldt St. $12. 544-7278.
From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.